|Montessori education does not end with the Primary experience. It continues into the child's elementary - and often adolescent - years, constantly building upon itself to meet the changing developmental needs of the child.
The six-year-old has the mark of a philosopher. Wonder is intrinsic to this child's learning. The stars, nature, technology, and social life introduce great questions: Where did I come from? What are stars made of? What is my purpose for living? What is justice? What is happiness? What is right and what is wrong?
Maria Montessori wrote that "human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination." A child's imagination provides the mental impetus for exploration of the universe. Montessori Elementary education speaks to a child's imagination and launches a lifelong voyage of discovery.
Every six-year-old loves a story:
In the beginning, before your parents were born, before your grandparents were born, before there were even people, before there was even an earth - there was nothing...
So begins one version of "The Story of the Universe," the first of five stories known as the Great Lessons and told in the Montessori elementary program. The Great Lessons are connected stories that span the enormous historical frames of time and space. "The Coming of Life" introduces the history of life on earth from one-celled animals and plants to human beings. "The Coming of Humans" relates the significance of human beings, their special abilities, and what differentiates them from other life forms. "The Story of Communication in Signs" and "The Story of Numbers" provide a look at human invention in the context of expanding civilization.
From this core of story frameworks emanate the details of the disciplines: science, mathematics, social studies, and language. The story provides an overview; the children then investigate the disciplines in detail. But because of the unifying thread of the Great Lessons, no subject is studied in isolation from the others. Knowledge is intertwined even though discrete in its parts.
The elementary-aged child is moving from an understanding of the physical world to an understanding of abstract concepts. Montessori provides diverse and creative passages to abstraction.
Mathematics for instance, is presented through three-dimensional, manipulative materials that reveal simultaneous correlations based on arithmetic, geometry, and algebra - each providing a concrete way to experience an abstract concept.
Likewise, the Grammar materials use symbols and visual patterns to help the child discover parts of speech and analyze the structure, style and logic of sentences. These exercises refine reading and writing skill and lay the foundation for foreign language study. The materials for disciplines such as geometry, botany, zoology, and geography present basic terminology as the groundwork for future in-depth study.
Art, Music and Physical Education are a vitalizing part of the already integrated Montessori elementary prepared environment. Art projects are natural extensions of the classroom work, reinforcing and expanding academic and artistic skills. Music activities also complement the child's work. National anthems, folk songs, and historical ballads key in the social studies areas, for instance. Writing music and plays provides occasion for dramatic integration of all the arts: drama, speech, painting, and literature. Physical education is likewise integrated into the day. Montessori schools provide access to the outdoors so that individual children or small groups can choose to go out and garden, play basketball, climb a tractor tire, or kick a soccer ball.
Like Montessori Primary, Montessori Elementary is based on multi-year age groupings. Students in elementary are grouped together in the same classroom, just as three-, four-, and five-year-olds are together in the primary. The multi-age grouping provides children with opportunities for broad social development.
The Montessori Elementary directress gains an intimate knowledge of the child that is seldom possible in a one-year classroom relationship. The directress is keenly tuned in to the unique personality of each child and can therefore "direct" each child into areas of natural interest.
Follow-up studies have indicated that Montessori graduates have little or no trouble with the transition to a more traditional system after Montessori elementary. Most of them excel academically as well as socially. Because they have had the advantage of sustained relationships within the multi-age group, they have insight into the personalities of other children. They make friends easily. They have a balanced outlook on life.
Montessori graduates are usually very level-headed and good problem solvers. Their project orientation emphasizes working beyond set limits to gain complete knowledge of a subject. They seek real understanding. They do not study just to get good grades; they study because they love to learn. They are also recognized for their social interest, willingness to do service, and faith in adults.
Montessori graduates feel they can and do make a difference in their communities and in the world.